Collection Number: 00231-z

Collection Title: William Dunbar Account Book, 1776-1793, 1845-1847.

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Abstract William Dunbar was a planter at Baton Rouge and Natchez and a friend of Alexander Ross, Scottish merchant and planter on the southwestern frontier during the American Revolution. The collection includes varied accounts, 1776-1793, probably kept by Alexander Ross, reflecting Ross's trading with London and Philadelphia, his interests at Baton Rouge (then in British West Florida), in the Pearl River area (now Mississippi), and in Nassau, and his service as British commissary general for East Florida. There are accounts with George Girty and Alex McKee, Loyalists at Fort Pitt; with the Earl of Dunmore (1732-1809), colonial governor of Virginia; and with free blacks. The volume also contains memoranda, 1845-1847, of William Dunbar's son of the same name, a Natchez planter, concerning his correspondence with his London and New York agents.
Creator Dunbar, William, 1749-1810.
Curatorial Unit University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the William Dunbar Account Book #231-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
Microfilm copy available.
Additional microfilm: All or part of this collection is also available on microfilm from University Publications of America as part of the Records of ante-bellum southern plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Series J.
Acquisitions Information
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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William Dunbar (1749-1810) was a Scotsman who came to America in 1771 and engaged in Indian trade in the vicinity of Fort Pitt, Pa., for about two years. There he became associated with John Ross, a Scottish merchant of Philadelphia, who backed Dunbar in later operations as a planter in the South. In 1773, Dunbar went to British West Florida and settled near Baton Rouge, where he had a plantation and a number of slaves. The slaves spent most of their time in the manufacture of barrel staves rather than in agriculture. In 1783, Dunbar moved to a plantation near Natchez, which he named the Forest. He was greatly interested in scientific research and exploration, and undertook a survey on behalf of the government of Spanish Florida. He later explored the Red River region at the request of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he corresponded about scientific matters.

(See Life, Letters, and Papers of William Dunbar by Mrs. Dunbar Rowland.)

Dunbar was a younger son of Sir Archibald Dunbar of Scotland. There is a story to the effect that he became heir to the title through the death of his older brothers long after he came to America, but that he refused to return to Scotland to accept it. This unverified story has led to his being called "Sir William Dunbar," though he did not use the title.

Alexander Ross (d. 1806) was the son of tenants on the Scottish estate of Dunbar's father. He was a close friend of Dunbar, followed him to America, and lived near him. Dunbar was the executor of Ross's estate after his death in 1806. Ross left no heirs in America. There is no information on the connection, if any, between Alexander Ross and John Ross.

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The account book, which has the inscription "Ledger A R" in the front, is not otherwise identified. An account with William Dunbar and some entries made in the 1840s at the Forest and signed W. Dunbar are included. Although the volume has been ascribed to Dunbar in the past, it appears that the account book was actually kept by Alexander Ross and came into Dunbar's hands after Ross's death in 1806. The account book, by the nature of its entries, does not seem to have been one that could have been kept by Dunbar himself, but the frequent references to him indicate that the keeper was closely associated with him. Dunbar's diary (not part of this collection) shows that "A. Ross" was his frequent visitor and that they did a great deal of business together. Dunbar's diary also indicates that Alexander Ross was associated with Dunbar in his plantation. Dunbar commented in his diary upon the arrival of Ross from Fort Pitt in October 1776. There are entries in the account book in September 1776 that indicate the owner was at Fort Pitt.

The first part of the account book, dated 1776 to 1793, lists accounts with various individuals for goods and property which Ross sold and purchased. It is not clear exactly what the nature of Ross's business was. It is possible that he dealt in general merchandise and Indian trading. It is also possible that Ross made purchases as an agent for friends and associates. The volume indicates that Ross traded with individuals from London and Philadelphia. He had an estate on Pearl Island in West Florida. Apparently he acted as commissary general of West Florida in 1780. In 1787, he sold a plantation on New Providence Island (probably in the Bahamas) to the the Earl of Dunmore, and, in 1791, he bought a house at Nassau in partnership with John McKenzie.

Among the early entries are one for Alexander McKee (who was later associated with Simon Girty) and one for George Girty (Simon's brother) at Fort Pitt. Simon Girty was an American settler who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War and apparently took part in attacks made by Indians against settlers. Ross also had accounts with the Earl of Dunmore, colonial governor of Virginia, and with free blacks. In later years, there are frequent entries for John McKenzie, who went into partnership with Alexander Ross in 1791.

In the back of the book, running the opposite way, are a few entries kept by "W. Dunbar" at the Forest, 4 July 1845 to 10 July 1847. These may be ascribed to William Dunbar, the oldest son of William Dunbar of the Forest. They consist chiefly of notes on his correspondence, expecially with Brown, Shipley & Co. of London and with Brown Brothers of New York. He wrote to the latter particularly about furnishing advances to his son, Field Dunbar, who intended to study medicine in Philadelphia.

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Contents list

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Processing Information

Processed by: Shonra Newman, February 1991

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

Updated by: Kathryn Michaelis, December 2009; Nancy Kaiser, October 2020

This inventory is an edited version of an inventory previously compiled by a member of the Southern Historical Collection processing staff.

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